Thirthankar Chakraborty

Panel 2A: Literary Transcodifications/2
Session 2 – July 1, 15:30 – 17:30

Dæmonizing Affect: Philip Pullman’s Fantastic World of Ecological Crises

The celebrated writer of fantasy Philip Pullman explored the relationship between science and religion in His Dark Materials, recently adapted on TV. In the second part of his ongoing trilogy The Book of Dust, he presents a self-critique of the same fictive world of Lyra Belacqua where daemons are the norm. Following the painful separation that Lyra and her dæmon Pantalaimon experience when the protagonist visits the land of the dead in The Amber Spyglass (2000), the feeling of suffering and grief that came with the initial rupture transforms into desolation and shame her daemon who sets out on an independent quest to find Lyra’s imagination, with her in pursuit.
This paper will explore The Secret Commonwealth (2019) as Pullman’s attempt to destabilize his own position as the authoritarian creator of Lyra’s universe; the escapist world of fiction is here rapidly overtaken by real ecological crises, so that the climaxes are fraught with fear, shame and guilt experienced through the protagonist. Through the novel genre, Pullman explores the affect of an unsettled world: where human and non-human, slave and slave-trader, tyrant and refugee, victim and rapist, soldier and civilian, the uncanny and the marvelous collide and collapse into one another. While an atmosphere of helplessness and nostalgia is predominant in this purgatorial space (intertextually imminent in Lyra’s Dantesque surname “Belacqua”) that stretches from Europe to Syria, the world-making impetus of this work of fantasy ends in a Keatsian negative capability that leaves the reader dreading the potential calamity of a global apocalypse. Building on Todorov’s notion of the fantastic, the paper will theorize about the modern fantasy genre, which incorporates elements of the real world in its textual fabric to create a hypermodernity that is frequently adapted on screen and television, spreading widespread awareness and generating critical debates.


Thirthankar Chakraborty is Assistant Professor at the Indian Institute of Technology Bhilai. He formerly worked as an Associate Lecturer at the University of Kent where he completed a PhD in Comparative Literature, funded by a 50th Anniversary International Scholarship. He has a forthcoming edited volume on Samuel Beckett as World Literature (2020) which is to be published by Bloomsbury, and he has presented papers at various international conferences.